Island Home begins service
The Steamship Authority (SSA) officially welcomed the M/V Island Home into the ferry fleet at a commissioning ceremony held Saturday that had the distinct feel of an Island block party.
Welcomed by the strains of a bagpipe played by Tony Peak, a host of dignitaries, local officials, and several hundred Island residents and visitors gathered at the SSA Vineyard Haven terminal for the 11:30 am event.
Friend greeted friend. Many shared memories of the venerable Islander, which the new $33 million ferry was built to replace. The festive atmosphere created an air of anticipation in front of the looming superstructure of the Island Home, ready to welcome visitors for the first time.
A large crowd gathered for the commissioning ceremony on Saturday. Photos by Ralph Stewart
The warm spring-like day provided an auspicious start to the vessel's new life. On Tuesday, her first full day of service, she would receive her baptism by weather as temperatures plummeted to below freezing and northwest winds gusted to 35 miles per hour - and keep on schedule.
There were intermittent problems first with one elevator, then with the other. Yesterday, Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, said technicians were working to correct the problems. "It is not unusual for a vessel this complex to have some things that need to be corrected," said Mr. Lamson.
Officials seated on a platform set between the north and south slips Saturday included state Representative Eric S. Turkington, Congressman William Delahunt, the five members of the SSA board and Boyd "Butch" King, CEO of VT Halter Marine, which built the new boat at its yard in Moss Point, Mississippi.
Marc Hanover, Vineyard SSA member.
The official ceremony began with a song. Stepping up to a microphone, Edgartown tenor, realtor, and movie impresario Benjamin Lambert Hall, better known as "Buzzy," sang "Dear Island Home," a version of "Dear Land of Home," a song written by Graham Valmore and first performed in 1915 that Mr. Hall altered to fit the occasion.
Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, who began his SSA career as a ticket taker almost 40 years ago, stepped to the podium and welcomed everyone. "This is a day of accomplishment and excitement," he said, smiling broadly.
Following an invocation by Reverend Alden Besse, SSA board chairman David J. Oliviera, New Bedford member, said he understood the nostalgia associated with the Islander and the significance of the occasion to the Vineyard community. But, he said, "there does come a time when the rust, the vinyl seats and the inefficient engines need to be replaced," and the board must meet its responsibilities to future passengers.
SSA Captain Ed Jackson walks off the Island Home, which he helped build.
Mr. Oliviera thanked the workers of VT Halter for their perseverance and diligence in completing the Island Home in the wake of the devastation left by hurricane Katrina. He was also one of several speakers to note contributions made by former Vineyard SSA member Kathryn Roessel.
Ms. Roessel, 51, was found dead outside her home on Nov. 27, 2004, one month before the completion of her three-year term. Police ruled out foul play.
On her stormy watch, the SSA grappled with issues of boatline management and leadership. At her last meeting Ms. Roessel and her fellow board members signed the contract authorizing the construction of a new vessel to replace the aging Islander. The board also agreed to adopt the name that Ms. Roessel chose - Island Home, after a vessel that served the Nantucket route more than a century ago.
In April 2005, Ms. Roessel's signature was integrated into a plaque for the new boat at a keel-laying ceremony at the VT Halter shipyard.
Benjamin "Buzzy" Hall sings "Dear Island Home."
Mr. Oliviera said, "I'd also like to mention the late Kathryn Roessel, whose tireless advocacy not only helped get this vessel approved but who provided a sounding board for everyone and anyone who had a helpful suggestion, insightful comment or cantankerous complaint. Cassie listened to them all. Thank you Cassie; we wish you were here."
Mr. Oliviera concluded his remarks with the reading of the orders to commission, marking the official start of the Island Home's service. Following a rendition of the national anthem by Mr. Hall, Mr. Lamson ordered the captain to "set the watch" and bring the Island Home to life. To the shouts of the crowd and the sound of her whistle, the SSA crew walked on board the Island Home.
The welcoming remarks and expressions of gratitude continued as Mr. Turkington and Mr. Delahunt stepped to the podium in turn. Mr. Delahunt said that with the new ferry the Vineyard experience would begin in Woods Hole.
David Oliviera, SSA board chairman.
Mr. King of VT Halter delivered heartfelt remarks about the strong bonds forged between the SSA and the Halter family during the construction process. He said the proof of that came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "The first call I got from Carl [Walker] and Wayne [Lamson] after Katrina wasn't, when are you going to get me my ship," he said. "It was, what can we do for you and your people. And we really appreciated that and we then understood the heart of New England and of you folks and that you cared about us.... From the folks down in Mississippi you have our heartfelt gratitude for the way you supported us and we look forward to a long relationship."
Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs, SSA Vineyard board member, provided a brief background on the history of the Island Home, noting the contributions of Ms. Roessel and other interested individuals during the design phase. In particular, he recognized the hard work of SSA captain Ed Jackson, who oversaw the construction. "Although nine months late it came in on budget," said Mr. Hanover, who credited the SSA's management team and a board that worked well together for a list of accomplishments.
Ben Taylor, Meredith Sheldon, Carly Simon, Kate Taylor, and David Saw (left to right) provide some unexpected entertainment.
In a surprise appearance arranged beforehand by Mr. Hanover, renowned singer-songwriter Carly Simon of West Tisbury - accompanied by her son Ben Taylor, singer Kate Taylor, David Saw, and Meredith Sheldon, all of Aquinnah - stepped to the podium and delighted the crowd with a rendition of her hit song "Never been gone."
In a final bit of ceremony, Sara Lee Marshall, wife of Falmouth board member Robert Marshall and the official sponsor of the ship, and Ms. Simon cut a ribbon stretched across the opening of the Island Home's cavernous freight deck.
The crowd of Islanders walked on board for the first time in what many hope will be the long and safe life for the Island's new link to the mainland.
Standing in the crowded lunch area, Art Flathers of Vineyard Haven, one of those who involved himself intimately in SSA affairs and the design of the new ferry, said admiringly, "It's a big jump from basic transportation to a hotel."